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Law prof says plaintiffs in Char-Broil grill class action could have tough road ahead

By Laura Wilcoxen | Jan 27, 2016

MIAMI (Legal Newsline) — Dr. Timothy Kaye, a professor of law at Stetson University, says a class action lawsuit over faulty ignition systems on gas grills presents a claim that may be difficult for plaintiffs to prove.

Brian Zinn, of Florida, has filed a suit against W.C. Bradley Co. and Char-Broil LLC in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, alleging that igniter systems in certain models of gas grills manufactured by the company are liable to fail and need replaced.

The suit also claims that manufacturer instructions provided with the grills prescribe, in the case of igniter system failure, an alternative manual lighting method that exposes users to serious burn injury. The suit seeks damages in excess of $5 million.

Kaye said the suit involves two distinct claims.

“One is for economic loss because the igniter module allegedly fails and needs replacing. The other is for physical danger allegedly posed by following the alternative lighting instructions," he said.

Kaye said the first claim will depend on the plaintiffs being able to demonstrate that the grills in question have a genuine, systemic defect that justifies a class action suit. However, Kaye said the merits and likelihood of success of the second claim are more difficult to assess.

“This isn't a typical products liability case, where the design of the product is alleged to pose a risk. Here the design is not being challenged; it's the instructions that are allegedly hazardous,” Kaye said.

Kaye said that if the plaintiffs successfully argue the suit's first claim of regular ignition system failure, it may in fact place an additional burden on the plaintiffs to justify the suit's second claim that users are in danger of injury when following the manufacturer's instructions for manually lighting the grills.

“The central issue here is whether anyone has actually been injured when following those instructions,” Kaye said.

“If not, it's difficult to see how they can justify the claim that they pose a serious burn hazard — especially if the igniters are failing and many users therefore resort to this alternative lighting method.

"In addition, it's not clear from the claim to what extent any of the alleged risk is greater than the risk normally inherent in lighting a fire.”

Zinn is represented by attorney Kenneth G. Gilman of Gilman Law in Bonita Springs, Fla.

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